Alternative Processes: Wet Plate Collodion with Stephen Berkman

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Today, we feature the final piece in a mini-series of posts on alternative processes in photography: Stephen Berkman and his Wet Plate Collodion process. If this interests you, and you'd like to expand your creative palette, the F295 Annual Symposium might be the spot for you to do so.


Stephen Berkman

Ambrotype (Wet Plate Collodion Process)

Stephen Berkman, The Exhibition (From the Archives of the Academie des Sciences)

Ambrotypes are one-of-a-kind positive images, made by using the wet plate collodion process. Frederick Scott Archer invented the wet plate collodion process several years before James Ambrose Cutting patented the process and coined the term “Ambrotype." Ambrotypes first came to the United States in the early 1950's, and soon replaced the Daguerreotype.

The wet plate collodion process entails coating one side of a clean glass plate with collodion (ether, grain alcohol, and nitrate cellulose) and then dipping the plate in silver nitrate. The plate is exposed to light while still wet, and must be developed and fixed immediately after making the exposure. When held up to a black background, the glass negative appears to be a positive image (black varnish is usually coated on the opposite side of the glass negative). A second plate of glass is placed over the emulsion, and is mounted in a metal case.

Stephen Berkman, The History of Dread, A Guide for the Perplexed

“I am interested in photography’s first 40 years because it was at its zenith right from the start. Photography has not improved much; it’s just gotten more convenient. I like the visual code of the nineteenth century, the formality of it, the way things looked, and the mix between art and science. What intrigues me is getting inside the minds of people from another time, and the feeling that their times—what we now consider the past—was at one time contemporary. The nineteenth century acts as both an anchor and a foil to my photographs.”*

Come hear Stephen Berkman and many other 21st century photographers discuss their work at the 2012 F295 Symposium: Continued Explorations of 21st Century Photography

*Excerpt from Robert Hirsch’s interview with Stephen Berkman to appear in the July/August 2012 issue of photo techniques magazine.